Jack Health Onsights: SXSW 2024

Jack Health Blog

March 21st, 2024 By

SXSW ONsightsFresh Jack Health Onsights from SXSW 2024! 

This year’s SXSW festival was as big (300,000+ attendees) and wide-ranging in topic (450 sessions over 24 tracks) as it’s ever been, and yet more purposeful and content-driven in how brands showed up and engaged in it. But, amid the effervescence buzz of the annual festival, a bigger questioned seemed to bubble to the surface: does SXSW and the healthcare track need a reboot?  

By now, many of you have likely seen the viral photo of Mark Cuban’s healthcare session showing a half-empty room. How much should we read into a photo? Was it a sign that it’s time to rethink our—and your—SXSW participation? Is it still worth the investment of time and budget? 

We are here to assure you that SXSW does not need a reboot. The opportunity for healthcare brands at SXSW is as alive as it’s ever been for brands willing to lead with purpose and turn the festival into an evergreen content creation engine.  

Here are the top 3 things from Austin this year: 

1. The Question on Choice and How to be Extraordinary. 

On-stage, more variety in brand and voice were represented than ever before. And that’s because so many topics that we think of as healthcare now transcend it and have found cultural resonance. That led to incredible fusions of voice – combining big pharma players like Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson with patient advocacy groups like NORD and the American Cancer Society and non-healthcare brands, like Delta, IBM, and EOS Cosmetics.  

While this was a win for choice, many sessions ran below capacity due to the competition for attention – not even celebrities were guaranteed room fillers (demonstrated by Marc Cuban). There were also more off-site, badge-less events than ever before (eg, SheMedia Co-Lab, Brand Storytelling Speakeasy, The Female Quotient Equality Lounge) – making it even harder to know where to direct your attention and time.  

Implications for Marketers: With all the choice at SXSW, healthcare brands must show up as part of bigger, relevant cultural conversations and on multiple stages, both badged and badge-less, to stand out. Don’t assume people will show up. Plan for promoting your session, talent, and how to continue to highlight post-SXSW. 

2. Content creation is critical to brand ROI. 

It can be costly to make a big splash at SXSW, so squeezing every bit of value out of the festival helps ensure the return continues well beyond your session. The best way to do that is through the creation of evergreen content – the timeless treasure that can be modularized, repackaged, and placed in a variety of channels to continue to tell brand stories and generate impactful engagement beyond SXSW. 

This year, many brands leaned in on audio-based scientific storytelling through podcasting and off-site events to stretch their impact and reach. There’s no better way to maximize your SXSW ROI than to capture those moments and insights from your brand voices and SMEs to bring back to your key audiences. Or better yet – to purposefully engineer your content as opposed to waiting for it to come to you.  

No longer is SXSW just an event on the calendar, but instead a tentpole milestone purposefully connected to the brand and content strategy roadmap. 

Implications for Marketers: SXSW should be thought of as a campaign of its own – not just a single event or moment in time. The key to doing that is creating evergreen content, leveraging audio and video to continue to breathe life into on-and-off stage moments that fluidly connect back to your brand and content strategy. 

3. Cancer stood out for its attention to patient voice.  

Of all the topics, cancer stepped into the spotlight. It’s no surprise since it’s growing twice as fast as any other therapeutic area. It’s also an area of medicine that has benefitted the most from emerging technologies like AI and personalization. Leading these conversations were healthcare systems like City of Hope and Texas Oncology who are on the front lines running clinical trials and engaging with patients every day. These sessions opened the door for the patient voice at SXSW—a welcome change. Calls to rebrand cancer rang loud as discussions on our use of language and how it can perpetuate feelings of fear. The reality is that there’s more reason to feel positive and hopeful than ever before.  

Implications for Marketers: People want to know how you’re transforming and bettering our health and the world around us. Share your purpose and how you’re delivering on it as it’s more important than ever to authentic engagement. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable and use SXSW as a storytelling platform for the unexpected voices—even patients and caregivers.  

It was another amazing year in Austin at SXSW filled with fluid and purpose-driven healthcare brand experiences—and of course, tons of amazing content. But there is much more to share, including insights from our IPG DXTRA Health partners at Golin Health and Weber Shandwick. Stay tuned to our socials for more or reach out to us to schedule time to connect directly! 

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